Adoption agency barred in N.Y. pending hearing

Date: 1996-09-14

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ)
Author: MEG NUGENT

An adoption agency that maintains a Bergen County office has been accused of illegal adoption activities in New York and was ordered to stop doing business in that state.

New York authorities contended Today's Adoption Agency collected thousands of dollars in fees from potential adoptive parents who never received their child.

The agency, which has an office in Fort Lee, has been barred from conducting any adoption activities in New York until a hearing next Thursday in Manhattan's state Supreme Court cq.

The agency's Fort Lee office remained open for business yesterday because the court order does not extend to New Jersey.

E.J. Miranda, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, said that, "In light of the allegations made by the New York attorney general, we will review the situation as it exists here in New Jersey." He added "that's it for now" until the review of the adoption agency was completed. The agency had an office in Port Jervis, N.Y., but closed it a few months ago, according to Judith Kramer, an assistant attorney general for New York. However, she maintained, the agency is still working on adoptions in New York and dispatches its social workers in many parts of the state.

Three New Jersey families were among a dozen listed in a lawsuit New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco filed Thursday against the adoption agency in attempts to shut it down, Kramer said. She said 25 more families contacted her yesterday with complaints about the agency.

Most of the families listed in the lawsuit were from New York state, including Manhattan, Albany, Westchester County and Long Island, according to the New York Attorney General's Office. Other families were in Pennsylvania, where Today's operates an office in Hawley.

One New Jersey woman, Linda Yarosh of Bayonne, said she paid out more than $20,000 last year but has never met the child promised to her, a boy from Paraguay who is now 2 years old.

"I really don't know where he is. I just don't know anything about this little boy," said Yarosh, who decided to adopt because she cannot have children naturally.

Yarosh explained the adoption agency assured her that she and her husband would have their son by September 1995. They also assured her that a Paraguay moratorium on adoptions issued last Sept. 18 would not affect them because they were already in the "pipeline."

"I asked where my child was. They couldn't give me an answer," said Yarosh of agency officials. "I'm sure there are loads of people in New Jersey who are contemplating an adoption and maybe they're calling this agency right now."

In addition to trying to shut down the agency's New York activities, the lawsuit was also filed in attempts to force the directors, Patricia Zuvic, Denise Zuvic and Stanley B. Michelman, to pay refunds to the families.

Michelman is an attorney who was suspended in 1994 from practicing law in New York because of improper adoption acitivities. He nor any other agency officials could be reached for comment yesterday.

The Fort Lee office referred all calls to the Pennsylvania facility. A woman in the Hawley office said there was no one available to talk about the case. She also said Today's planned to issue a press release but did not know when that would occur.

New York officials contended the adoption agency promised foreign-born children to families, charged outrageous fees in one case, $30,000 and requested they fly to Paraguay and other parts of Latin America to visit the prospective adoptees.

But in many cases, Today's never produced the children and failed to reimburse families, according to the New York Attorney General's Office.

Kramer said the agency's social workers would call up the families and tell them their child was going to be placed with another family if they didn't send "a check for $5,000 by Tuesday and another by Friday."

"You're talking about a very vulnerable group," Kramer added of the prospective parents.

At the New York Supreme Court hearing next week, the adoption agency is expected to produce reasons why it should not be shut down, Kramer said. The assistant attorney general added she plans to ask Judge Carol Arber to have the files of the families either transferred to "reputable" adoption agencies or have them returned to the families.

"It's a problem what to do with all these families that have contracts and they really think they're getting these babies. And they're not," Kramer said.

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